CORRECTION: Expanded Counseling Services for South Pasadena Students

Dennis Lefevre. Courtesy photo

Correction: In the page 1 story, “Expanded Counseling Services for South Pasadena Students,” in this week’s print edition of The Review there was a factual error. The story states that Intervention Counselor Natasha Prime is splitting her time between Huntington Middle School in San Marino and the So Pas High School. That is incorrect. Natasha Prime is working full-time in the South Pasadena School District. The Review regrets this error.

Responding to a greater need for mental health services for its students, the South Pasadena Unified School District has increased its counseling staff and increased services for elementary to high school students.

“We want to try and capture social, emotional and behavioral problems early,” said Dennis Lefevre, Executive Director of Student Support Services for SPUSD. Rather than wait for a problem to become critical, the goal is to take “prevention measures to address issues as quickly as possible.”

The district expanded its Train Your Brain program hiring Natasha Prime, an intervention counselor, full-time so she can split her time between the Middle School the High School. The program provides short-term therapy in anger-stress management, coping skills, social skills, and organizational/study skills.

“We were so happy with the results that this year we’ve expanded that to a full-time position,” said Lefevre. “So far, it has been really working out great for our students.”

“She has been able to interact with many more students and parents as well,” he said. “She actually does one-on-one and in group counseling sessions.”

With two interns working alongside her, Prime is able to spend more time with each student helping them deal with feelings of being overwhelmed, whether with anxiety or depression.

“Often time, students can’t articulate whether it’s about being scared or it’s about being sad because they are overwhelmed,” he said. “It could be the workload because we are a high performing district and parental expectations are very high.”

Prime works with students in small groups, maximum of seven students, to deal with social or emotional issues such as anxiety, grief and loss. Lefevre said the goal is to give students, in a short period of time, eight to ten weeks, the tools they need to be able to manage whatever problems they are facing.

“The other thing that is new and exciting this year is that we’ve expanded our counseling at our elementary sites so that we can provide more general counseling to elementary students,” he said. “It became clear to us that we needed to provide general education support to elementary age students as well.”

Lefevre said the new program is not as structured or as intensive as the Train Your Brain program. Young students meet with counselors during lunch or other times of the day that do not interfere with instructional time.

“The program is based on parent or teacher referrals for participation in things like Lunch Bunches for kids that are struggling with their interpersonal skills, struggling with feeling like they are being bullied, that they are having trouble making friends or they’re nervous about coming to school,” he said.

“It tends to be the result of fear or anxiety associated with leaving the home or leaving the parents and coming to school,” said Lefevre. “That has become a really big issue at all three of our elementary sites.”

“We have kids that are being diagnosed with panic disorder and anxiety disorder at a very young age, second or third grade,” he said. “So, having both school psychologists and school counselors at our elementary sites this year is really a huge step forward in terms of addressing our kids’ social and emotional needs.”

Lefevre said there are also factors outside of the school setting, such as having divorced or single parents, that add stress, anxiety, and “a sense of not feeling safe.”

“Our expanded counseling services allow us to deal with these issues that are important to our students,” he said.